It is important for the innocent to be cautious, look, see and understand the undercurrent of the various voices and the associated ambitions behind the #EndSARS campaign. We must do this by disaggregating the voices in order to separate the grains from the chaffs, otherwise this protest will degenerate into a mob rule where impunity and lawlessness would begin to reign over law and order in the land.
Yes, there is a need for a protest if it is meant to raise awareness over the unbecoming nature of the Special Anti Robbery Squad (SARS) and what to do about it, more so that this is largely induced by a sense of frustration arising from age long situation of uncertainty and the unpredictability of the future of Nigeria, both in the areas of economy and security. “#EndSARS” therefore is supposed to address the issue of government and governance in relation to the need of the masses as guaranteed by the constitution of Nigeria particularly as it pertains to one important fundamental duty or obligation of government towards the citizenry, i.e. the protection of lives and properties of the people. It follows therefore that how the federal government and its institutions respond to this call to action will largely determine whether or not we will have an orderly society following this development.
First, government must be willing to give the right interpretation to the current situation of anger and rage being expressed in the course of the ongoing protest rather than wishing them away with prejudices. This is because there are those waiting on the verge to decode any undue interpretations, in their own way, with the motive of exacerbating the anger and rage in the streets.
Secondly, we the general public must understand that there are predatory forces already existing in this country that want to keep Nigeria in perpetual fear and panic. Such people could easily hijack the protest. They are not the politicians or the trade unionists as some may think, except of course that any of these groups are also potentially available to use elements of the protesters as handy tools for various reasons. The predators in this context, however, are those who have defied all amnesty gestures of the government together with the love of God for them. They are the ones who, as predators, are currently preying on the law-abiding citizens and hardworking Nigerians and foreigners living in Nigeria. They include but not limited to:1. The armed robbers, who parade the high ways and human settlements in Nigeria, who are kidnapping, robbing, raping, maiming and killing their victims. These predators, believe it or not, have joined in the #EndSARS campaign, disguising as genuine protesters.2. The sea pirates obstructing trade and commerce, robbing merchant ships and attacking any official sea patrol vessels of the Nigerian Navy. They too are present in the streets as protesters that want the end of SARS.3. The jail breaks that are currently on the loose.
They are there on the streets to communicate their excitement in the deal against the SARS.4. The highly populated criminal junta called Boko Haram, operating with a military sophistication and intelligence, bombing and over running villages, communities, churches, mosques and military camps at will. They too are Nigerians and you cannot stop them to join the protest because the end of law enforcement in the land will favour them the most.The organized and highly coordinated multiple groups of criminal gangs on a self-serving mission in the Midwest and the Niger Delta, who are constantly vandalizing our common wealth at the detriment of this nation are also happy with the protest so long as the movement will result in total damnation of law enforcement in the land. These people are also involved in night and daylight robbery. They mostly harbour their weaponry in the bushes where they also dwell most times along with their kidnaped victims while demanding or waiting for ransoms. Because the society, Nigeria, in which they live is becoming seriously overwhelmed and totally intimidated with such unequally challenged perturbations, their population in Nigeria keeps increasing as more and more youths are now keying into criminality on daily basis, bearing illegal arms and ammunition. They are notoriously growing in the East, Middle Belt, Jos and Kaduna roads, South-south and North-east domains including the mines sites of Zamfara state. Most of these people are also in the streets to tell you that they are now your good friends in the fight against the “bad SARS”.The list of criminal elements in Nigeria are not limited to the aforementioned. This is just to alert the law abiding innocent Nigerians, who are obsessed with the #EndSARS campaign, you are to note that the protesting voices also actually include the dominant voices of the hitherto dreaded criminals who are now disguised as peace loving protesters, like me and you, under the ongoing protests. It is to also alert that such voices are indeed capable of eclipsing your genuine voices as a means of fostering their inordinate ambition to use the opportunity to cause chaos and create the chances to loot, steal, rob and kill the unsuspecting people. The problem those criminals have with SARS is not the same with your problem. The armed robbers are usually very successful in their unchallenged business of armed robbery and kidnaping except that members of the Police Force or SARS are their only obstacles. It is properly evidenced in the daily news as stories abound about successful and failed attempts by armed robbers to buy off some members of the force and how they could kill policemen when they feel frustrated in achieving such goal. Under this #EndSARS agenda therefore, we must be weary of what becomes of this protest when the voices leading the campaign are not properly disaggregated and a choice not made on whom to recognize and on which issues in the matter to address. Let it not be that we are only serving those who kill or kidnap us on daily basis.
That is to say, that we don’t have to #EndSARS in utter damnation of the legitimate duties of SARS to this country. The police must wake up right now otherwise this smoke screen called peaceful protest will take them by surprise! What we should be fighting are those that are against us, wherever they may be found, even if they are on the body of the Police Force or SARS or even among protesters. Those against the peace of the hard-working innocent Nigerians are the murderous criminals who should be caught and factored into a functional judicial process. Unfortunately, no one talks about that and there is never going to be a protest against the heinous crime which they commit every day. The civil societies do not believe that there is a job to do here. The civil societies however must agree with the reality that if we must deal with the issues in the matter of SARS, we must accordingly be careful not to make it look like the issue of armed robbers killing and kidnapping Nigerians in their numbers, on daily basis, is now preferable to the carelessness or wickedness of a few rotten apples in SARS personnel harassing a few of us on daily basis. No, we should prefer the opposite while still believing in dealing with the stench or odours of the rotten apples. This protest must therefore be focused on some tangible things to be done immediately by governments at all levels.
The following considerations are relevant:Decentralization of the Police Force:Decentralization will generate the awareness that would decrease the level of docility of the primary and secondary level governments. It will make the state governments to wake up to their statutory constitutional obligation and duty of security of their States.
Funding the State Police Command:The security vote for States will be more accountable with a defined mode or pattern of expenditure that would be focused only or result, depending on the peculiar security problem and risks of a state. Add this to the fact that there will be a Special Security Commission for the administration of the fund. It will involve the representatives of the various security formations with the police at the center of this arrangement, functioning as State Police Inspectorate or Command. This therefore shifts the unilateral control and uncountable expenditures from Governors to a dedicated and accountable commission answerable to the State Governors.
Incentive for Police/ Policemen Family:• There should be enough Barracks and Police Quarters to accommodate policemen. Settlements built and adapted for beneficial occupation with basic amenities and utilities should also be made fortified to stand emergency attacks. We can achieve this within a space of one year if there is prudence in the way and manners states and federal resources are handled or dispensed in relation to such target. This should be a priority in the police reform/decentralization agenda. It is a very responsible way to ‘End SARS’ or change SARS ways if you will.• The method for police transfers should be developed and anchored on a consistent mechanism, built on the principle of equity and justice.• A minimum of two children of a policeman should study on a specially managed scholarship upon gaining admission at both Secondary and Tertiary Institutions in any Federal and State University or Secondary school. The identity of such children must be established by registration with the Board of such Scholarship at the time of birth of the child or upon completion of primary school.
Decentralization of the Prisons:As the judiciary is decentralized so should the prisons be decentralized. It doesn’t make any sense to have state courts and state tried cases and convicted persons pushed to the Federal Government Prisons. Right now, the Federal Government is busy chewing more than it can swallow but still has the chance and opportunity to save itself from choking.Breeding of a New Police Force (Training):There should be a specialized secondary institution for a 2 years Law Enforcement Training from where future police officers would emanate with a Special National Diploma (SPD). Enrolment criteria will include the bonding of such prospective students. Such candidates must have a secondary school certificate or a minimum of 3 credits upon completion of five years secondary education. The tertiary level of their training would be in a dedicated Police Force Academy for maximum of 2-3 years to graduate with a Higher National Diploma. This happens after the officer might have served for a minimum of five (5) years in the Police Force as officer.Law enforcement:Reduce discretional approach to both police investigation and law enforcement procedures. This can change when cutting edge technology is embraced. Working in defiance to the beckoning opportunity for increased efficiency in police investigation and or law enforcement will further diminish the impetus of the police force and that will continue to generate acrimonious relationship between the security operatives and members of the public when they are actually supposed to work together and share intelligence to support each other.As for the youths, my advice for them is to understand the difference between peaceful protest and violence and which one to choose at any given time bearing in mind that each is a cause of its own with different and unrelated effects. That in prescribed circumstances, protests and assemblies may be dispersed, and in even more prescribed circumstances, may be dispersed by force.
ConclusionThis protest should profit Nigeria and that will happen only if it generates a collective understanding that the institutional arrangements of government, designed for investigation and law enforcement, require strengthening and a higher impetus to perform their statutory functions. For now, the police must remain awake in order to avoid the total breakdown of law and order in the land.
Awute mni, a double Paul Harry Fellow, Rotarian and former federal permanent secretary, writes from Abuja.